"The Boys King Arthur"
OF THE DEATH OF ARTHUR
The Boys King Arthur
by Sidney Lanier
Illustrated By N.C Wyeth
The Boys King Arthur
OF THE DEATH OF ARTHUR
BUT ever in these days the enemies of Sir Launcelot and of Queen Guenever lay in wait to do
them harm, in especial Sir Mordred and Sir Agravaine. So it befell that the queen was again
appealed of treason and was condemned to the fire, while Sir Launcelot was away. But when Sir
Launcelot heard thereof, he came suddenly with his kindred and attacked them that guarded about
the queen whereas she stood at the stake about to be burnt.]
1 This event - the death of King Arthur - gave name to the
whole series of stories with some of the old editors:
Caxton, for example, the first printer of Sir Thomas
Malory's book, issued it under the title "La Mort Darthur,"
that is, la mort (French, the death) d'Arthur (of Arthur).
Then was there spurring and plucking up of horses and right so they came to the fire, and
who that stood against them there they were slain, there might none withstand Sir Launcelot. And
in this rashing and hurling, as Sir Launcelot thrang [rushed] here and there, it mishappened him
to slay Sir Gaheris and the noble knight Sir Gareth, for they were unarmed and unaware; for Sir
Launcelot smote Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris upon the brain-pans, wherethrough they were both
slain in the field; howbeit in very truth Sir Launcelot saw them not, and so were they found
dead among the thickest of the press~ Then when Sir Launcelot had thus done, and had put them to
flight all they that would withstand him, then he rode straight unto Queen Guenever, and made a
kirtle and a gown to be cast upon her, and then he made her to be set behind him, and prayed her
to be of good cheer. Wit you well that the queen was glad when she escaped from death; and then
she thanked God and Sir Launcelot. And so he rode his way with the queen unto Joyous Gard, and
there he kept her as a noble knight should do, and many great lords and some kings sent Sir
Launcelot many good knights; and many noble knights drew unto Sir Launcelot. When this was known
openly, that King Arthur and Sir Launcelot were at debate, many knights were glad of their
debate, and many knights were sorry of their debate.
[Then King Arthur made moan out of measure, for he knew that the Round Table was foredoomed
and that great wars must come of these matters.]
"And now I dare say," said the king, "that there was never Christian king that held such a
fellowship together. Alas! that ever Sir Launcelot and I should be at debate. Ah! Agravaine,
Agravaine," said the king, "Jesu forgive it thy soul! for thine evil will that thou and thy
brother Sir Mordred had unto Sir Launcelot hath caused all this sorrow.
And ever among these complaints King Arthur wept and swooned. Then there came one unto Sir
Gawaine, and told him how the queen was led away with Sir Launcelot, and nigh twenty-four
"Truly," said the man, "your two brethren, Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris, be slain."
"Who slew [them] ?" said Sir Gawaine.
"Sir," said the man, "Sir Launcelot slew them both."
"Alas !" said Sir Gawaine, "now is all my joy gone."
And then he fell down in a swoon, and long he lay there as he had been dead; and then when
he arose out of his swoon, he cried out so ruefully, and said, "Alas !" And right so Sir Gawaine
ran unto the king, crying and weep- ing: "Oh! King Arthur mine uncle, my good brother Sir
Gaheris is slain, and my brother Sir Gareth also, the which were two noble knights."
"I know not how it was," said the king, "but so it is said, Sir Launcelot slew them both in
the thickest of the press, and knew them not."
[Then fell Sir Gawaine into bitter hatred against Sir Launcelot and never stinted therein
till the day of his death.]
"My most gracious lord and my uncle," said Sir Gawaine, "wit you well that now I shall make
you a promise, the which I shall hold by my knighthood, that from this day I shall never fail
Sir Launcelot, until the one of us hath slain the other; and therefore I require you, my lord
and my king, dress you unto the war, for wit you well I shall be revenged upon Sir Launcelot.
For I promise unto God," said Sir Gawaine, "for the death of my brother Sir Gareth I shall seek
Sir Launcelot throughout seven kings' realms but I shall slay him, or else he shall slay me.
"Ye shall not need to seek him so far," said the king, "for, as I hear say, Sir Launcelot
will abide me and you in the Joyous Gard, and much people draweth unto him as I hear say."
Then came King Arthur and Sir Gawaine with an huge host, and laid a siege about Joyous Gard,
both at the town and at the castle; and there they made full strong war on both parties. But in
no wise Sir Launcelot would not ride out nor go out of the castle of a long time, neither he
would suffer none of his good knights to issue out, neither none of the town nor of the castle,
until fifteen weeks were past.
So it befell on a day in harvest that Sir Launcelot looked over the walls and spake on high
to King Arthur and Sir Gawaine: "My lords both, wit ye well it is in vain that ye labor at this
siege, for here win ye no worship but dishonor." "Come forth," said King Arthur unto Sir
Launcelot, "and thou darest, and I promise thee I shall meet thee in the midst of the field."
"God defend me," said Sir Launcelot, "that ever I should encounter with the most noble king
that made me knight."
"Fie upon thy fair language," said the king, "for wit you well, and trust it, I am thy
mortal foe, and ever will to my death day, for thou hast slain my good knights and full noble
men of my blood, that I shall never recover again: also thou hast dishonored my queen, and
holden her many winters, and like a traitor taken her from me by force."
"My most noble lord and king," said Sir Launcelot, ye may say what ye will, for ye wot well
with yourself I will not strive, but there as ye say I have slain your good knights, I wot well
that I have done so, and that me sore repenteth, but I was enforced to do battle with them, in
saving of my life, or else I must have suffered them to have slain me. And as for my lady Queen
Guenever, oft-times, my lord, ye have consented that she should be burnt and destroyed in your
heat, and then it fortuned me to do battle for her, and or I departed from her adversary they
con- fessed their untruth, and she full worshipfully excused. And at such times, my lord
Arthur," said Sir Launcelot, "ye loved me, and thanked me when I saved your queen from the fire,
and then ye promised me for ever to be my good lord, and now me thinketh ye reward me full ill.
For sithence I have done battles for your queen in other quarrels than in mine own, me seemeth
now I had more right to do battle for her in a right quarrel. And therefore my good and gracious
lord," said Sir Launcelot, "take your queen unto your good grace, for she is both fair, true,
"Fie on thee, false recreant knight," said Sir Gawaine, "I let thee to wit that my lord mine
uncle King Arthur shall have his queen and thee maugre [in spite of] thy visage, and slay you
both whereas it shall please him."
"It may well be," said Sir Launcelot; "but wit ye well, my lord Sir Gawaine, and me list to
come out of this castle, ye should win me and the queen more harder than ever ye won a strong
"Fie upon thy proud words," said Sir Gawaine, "as for my lady the queen, I will never say of
her shame. Ah! thou false recreant knight," said Sir Gawaine, "what cause hadst thou to slay my
good brother Sir Gareth, that loved thee more than all thy kin? Alas! thou madest him knight
with thine own hands, why slewest thou him that loved thee so well?"
"For to excuse me," said Sir Launcelot, "it helpeth me not. But, by Jesu," said Sir
Launcelot, "and by the faith that I owe unto the high order of knighthood, I should with as good
a will have slain my nephew Sir Bors de Ganis at that time. But alas! that ever I was so
unhappy," said Sir Launcelot, "that I had not seen Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris."
"Thou liest, false recreant knight," said Sir Gawaine, "thou slewest him in despite of me,
and therefore wit thou well that I shall make war unto thee all the while that I may live."
"That me sore repenteth," said Sir Launcelot, "for well I understand that it helpeth me not
to seek for none accord- ment whiles that ye, Sir Gawaine, are so mischievously set; and if ye
were not, I would not doubt to have the good grace of my lord King Arthur."
[Then Sir Launcelot's kinsmen besought him that he would go out and do battle for the
slanders that Sir Gawaine and his knights did put upon him.]
"Alas !" said Sir Launcelot, "for to ride out of this castle and do battle, I am full loth
to do it."
Then Sir Launcelot spake on high unto King Arthur and Sir Gawaine: "My lords, I require you
and beseech you, sith I am thus required and conjured to ride into the field, that neither you,
my lord King Arthur, nor you, Sir Gawaine, come not into the field."
"What shall we do then?" said Sir Gawaine; "is not this the king's quarrel with thee to
fight? and it is my quarrel to fight with thee, Sir Launcelot, because of the death of my
brother Sir Gareth."
"Then must I needs unto battle," said Sir Launcelot.
And always Sir Launcelot charged all his knights in any wise to save King Arthur and Sir
And on the morrow at underne [nine o'clock] King Arthur was ready in the field with three
great hosts. And then Sir Launcelot's fellowship came out at three gates in full good array, and
Sir Lionel came in the foremost battle, and Sir Launcelot came in the middle battle, and Sir
Bors came out at the third gate.
[Then was there spurring and thrusting and many strokes.]
And ever King Arthur was nigh about Sir Launcelot to have slain him, and Sir Launcelot
suffered him, and would not strike again. So Sir Bors encountered with King Arthur, and there
with a spear Sir Bors smote him down; and so he alighted and drew his sword, and said to Sir
Launcelot, "Shall I make an end of this war ?" and that he meant to have slain King Arthur.
"Not so hardy," said Sir Launcelot, "upon pain of thy head, that thou touch him no more: for
I will never see that most noble king, that made me knight, neither slain ne shamed."
And therewithal Sir Launcelot alighted off his horse, and took up the king and horsed him
again, and said thus, "My lord Arthur, for God's love stint this strife."
And when King Arthur was again on horseback, he looked upon Sir Launcelot, and then the
tears burst out of his eyes thinking on the great courtesy that was in Sir Launcelot more than
in any other man. And therewith the king rode forth his way, and might no longer behold him, and
said to himself, "Alas! that ever this war began." And then either parties of the battles
withdrew them for to rest them, and buried the dead bodies, and to the wounded men they laid
soft salves; and thus they endured that night till on the morrow. And on the morrow, by underne,
they made them ready to do battle, and then Sir Bors led them forward. So on the morrow came Sir
Gawaine as grim as any bear, with a spear in his hand. And when Sir Bors saw him [they rode
furiously together and either gave the other a great wound]. Then Sir Launcelot rescued Sir
Bors, and sent him into the castle; but neither Sir Gawaine nor Sir Bors died not of their
wounds, for they were both holpen.
"Alas !" said Sir Launcelot, "I have no heart to fight against my lord King Arthur; for
always me seemeth I do not as I ought to do."
"My lord," said Sir Palamides, "though ye spare them all this day, they will never con you
thank; and if they may get you at any vantage, ye are but dead."
So then Sir Launcelot understood well that they told him truth, and then he strained himself
more. And then within a little while, by even-song time, Sir Launcelot and his party better
stood, for their horses went in blood past the fetlocks, there was so much people slain. And
then, for pity, Sir Launcelot withheld his knights, and suffered King Arthur's party for to
withdraw them one side. And then Sir Launcelot's party withdrew them into his castle, and either
party buried the dead bodies and put salve unto the wounded men. So when Sir Gawaine was hurt,
they on King Arthur's party were not so orgulous [arrogantly eager] as they were beforehand to
do battle. Of this war was noised through all christendom, and at the last it was noised afore
the Pope; and he considering the great goodness of King Arthur [let send letters to Sir
Launcelot how that he should bring the queen back to King Arthur. And so, when King Arthur had
carried his host back to his own country, came Sir Launcelot to King Arthur's court and gave him
again his queen].
[And then while Sir Launcelot was at court he strove hard to be accorded with Sir Gawaine,
for he bore no malice neither to Sir Gawaine nor to King Arthur. But Sir Gawaine would not be
accorded, and ever let King Arthur from being accorded, that would right gladly have received
again his old faithful knight, Sir Launcelot. And ever more bitter grew Sir Gawaine: till at the
last he said to Sir Launcelot: "In this land thou shalt not abide past fifteen days, such
warning I give thee. So the king and we were consented and accorded or thou camest hither; and
else," said Sir Gawaine, "wit thou well that thou shouldst not have come hither, but if it were
maugre thy head. And if that it were not for the Pope's commandment, I should do battle with my
body against thy body, and prove it unto thee that thou hast been false unto mine uncle King
Arthur and to me both, and that shall I prove upon thy body when thou art departed from hence,
wheresoever I find thee."
Then Sir Launcelot sighed, and therewith the tears fell on his cheeks, and then he said
these words: "Alas! most noble Christian realm, whom I have loved above all other realms, and in
thee have I gotten a great part of my worship, and now I shall depart in this wise. Truly me
repenteth that ever I came into this realm, that should be thus shamefully banished undeserved
and causeless. But fortune is so variable and the wheel so mutable, there is no constant
abiding, and that may be proved by many old chronicles of noble Hector, and Troilus, and
Alisander the mighty conqueror, and many other moe [more]; when they were most in their royalty,
they alighted lowest. And so fareth by me," said Sir Launcelot, "for in this realm I have had
worship, and by me and mine all the whole Round Table hath been increased, more in worship by me
and my blood than by any other. And therefore wit you well, Sir Gawaine, I may live as well upon
my lands as any knight that is here. And if ye, my most renowned king, will come upon my lands
with your nephew Sir Gawaine for to war upon me, I must endure you as well as I may; but as for
you Sir Gawaine, if that ye come there, I pray you charge me not with treason nor felony, for,
and ye do, I must answer you.
"Do thou thy best," said Sir Gawaine, "therefore hie thee fast that thou were gone, and wit
thou well we shall soon come after, and break the strongest castle that thou hast upon thy
"That shall not need," said Sir Launcelot, "for and I were as orgulous set as ye are, wit ye
well I should meet with you in midst of the field."
"Make thou no more language," said Sir Gawaine, "but deliver the queen from thee, and pike
thee lightly out of this court."
And then Sir Launcelot said unto Queen Guenever, in hearing of the king and them all,
"Madam, now I must depart from you and this noble fellowship for ever; and sithen it is so, I
beseech you to pray for me, and say me well, and if ye be hard bestead by any false tongues,
lightly, my lady, let send me word, and if any knight's hands may deliver you by battle, I shall
And tlierewithal Sir Launcelot kissed the queen, and then he said all openly, "Now let see
what he be in this place, that dare say the queen is not true unto my lord Arthur: let see who
will speak, and he dare speak."
And therewith he brought the queen to the king, and then Sir Launcelot took his leave and
departed; and there was neither king, duke ne earl, baron ne knight, lady nor gentlewoman, but
all they wept as people out of their mind, except Sir Gawaine; and when the noble Sir Launcelot
took his horse, to ride out of Carlisle, there was sobbing and weeping for pure dole of his
departing; and so he took his way unto Joyous Gard. And afterwards he called it Dolorous Gard.
And thus Sir Launcelot departed from the court for ever.
So leave we Sir Launcelot in his lands, and his noble knights with him, and return we again
unto King Arthur and Sir Gawaine, that made a great host ready, to the number of threescore
thousand, and all thing was ready for their shipping to pass over the sea. And so they shipped
at Cardiff. And there King Arthur made Sir Nfordred chief ruler of all England; and also he put
Queen Guenever under his governance. And so King Arthur passed over the sea, and landed upon Sir
Launcelot's land, and there he burnt and wasted, through the vengeance of Sir Gawaine, all that
they might overrun.
Then spake King Bagdemagus unto Sir Launcelot, "Sir, your courtesy will shend [ruin] us all,
and your courtesy hath caused all this sorrow; for and they thus override our lands, they shall
by process of time bring us all to nought, whilst we thus hide us in holes."
Then said the good knight Sir Galihud to Sir Launcelot, "Sir, here be knights come of kings'
blood, that will not long droop and they were without the walls; therefore give us leave, as we
are knights, to meet them in the field, and we shall slay them, that they shall curse the time
that ever they came into this country."
Then spake the seven brethren of North Wales, and they were seven noble knights as a man
might seek in seven kings' lands, or he might find such seven knights, then they spake all with
one voice, "Sir Launcelot, for Christ's sake let us ride out with Sir Galihud, for we been never
wont to cower in castles nor in towns."
Then spake Sir Launcelot, which was master and governor of them all, "My fair lords,
howbeit we will as at this time keep our strong walls, and I shall send a messenger unto my lord
King Arthur, desiring him to take a treaty; for better is peace than always war.
So Sir Launcelot sent forth a damsel and a dwarf with her, requiring King Arthur to leave
his war upon his lands. And so she started upon a palfrey, and the dwarf ran by her side.
[But Sir Gawaine would have no peace nor treaties, and sent vile messages back to Sir
Launcelot, and presently led the host to Sir Launcelot's castle.]
So thus they endured well half a year, and much slaughter of people there was on both
parties. Then it befell upon a day that Sir Gawaine came before the gates armed at all pieces
upon a great courser, with a great spear in his hand; and then he cried with a loud voice,
"Where art thou now, thou false traitor Sir Launcelot? why dost thou hide thyself within holes
and walls like a coward? look out now, thou false traitor knight, and here I shall revenge upon
thy body the death of my three brethren."
All this language heard Sir Launcelot, and his kin every deal; and then his knights drew
about him, and they said all at once unto Sir Launcelot, "Sir Launcelot, now ye must defend you
like a knight, or else ye be shamed for ever; for now ye be called upon treason, it is time for
you to stir, for ye have slept over long, and suffered over much."
"So God me help," said Sir Launcelot, "I am right heavy of Sir Gawaine's words, for now he
chargeth me with a great charge; and therefore I wot it as well as ye that I must defend me,
or else to be a recreant knight."
Then Sir Launcelot commanded to saddle his strongest horse, and bade fetch his armor, and
bring all unto the gate of the tower. And then Sir Launcelot spake on high unto King Arthur, and
said, "My lord and noble king which made me knight, wit you well that I am right heavy for your
sake, that ye thus sue upon me, and always I forbare you; for, and I would have been
revengeable, I might have met you in the midst of the field, and there to have made your boldest
knights full tame; and now I have forborne you half a year, and have suffered you and Sir
Gawaine to do what ye would, and now I may endure it no longer; now must I needs defend myself,
in so much as Sir Gawaine hath appealed me of treason, the which is greatly against my will,
that ever I should fight against any of your blood; but now I may not forsake it, I am driven
thereto as a beast to a bay."
And so the covenant was made, there should no man nigh them, nor deal with them, till the
one were dead or yielden.
Then Sir Gawaine and Sir Launcelot departed a great way in sunder, and then they came
together with all their horses' might as they might run, and either smote other in midst of
their shields, but the knights were so strong, and their spears so big, that their horses might
not endure their buffets, and so the horses fell to the earth. And then they avoided their
horses, and dressed their shields afore them. Then they stood together, and gave many sad
strokes on divers places of their bodies, that the blood brast out on many sides and places.
Then had Sir Gawaine such a grace and gift that an holy man had given to him, that every day in
the year, from underne till high noon, his might increased those three hours as much as thrice
his strength, and that caused Sir Gawaine to win great honor. [And] there were but few knights
that time living that knew this advantage that Sir Gawaine had, but King Arthur all only. Thus
Sir Launcelot fought with Sir Gawaine, and when Sir Launcelot felt his might evermore increase,
Sir Launcelot wondered, and dread him sore to be shamed. For Sir Launcelot wend, when he felt
Sir Gawaine double his strength, that he had been a fiend and no earthly man, wherefore Sir
Launcelot traced and traversed, and covered himself with his shield, and kept his might during
three hours: and that while Sir Gawaine gave him many sad brunts and many sad strokes, that all
the knights that beheld Sir Launcelot marvelled how he might endure him, but full little
understood they that travail that Sir Launcelot had for to endure him. And then when it was past
noon, Sir Gawaine had no more but his own might. Then Sir Launcelot felt him so come down; then
he stretched him up, and stood near Sir Gawaine, and said thus, "My lord Sir Gawaine, now I feel
ye have done, now my lord Sir Gawaine, I must do my part, for many great and grievous strokes I
have endured you this day with great pain."
Then Sir Launcelot doubled his strokes, and gave Sir Gawaine such a buffet on the helmet,
that he fell down on his side, and Sir Launcelot withdrew him from him.
"Why withdrawest thou thee ?" said Sir Gawaine; "now turn again, false traitor knight, and
slay me; for and thou leave me thus, when I am whole I shall do battle with thee again.
"Sir, I shall endure you by the grace of God," said Sir Launcelot; "but wit you well, Sir
Gawaine, I will never smite a felled knight."
And so Sir Launcelot went into the city, and Sir Gawaine was borne into one of King Arthur's
pavilions; and anon there was leeches brought to him, which searched his wound, and salved it
with soft ointments. And then Sir Launcelot said, "Now have good day, my lord the king, for wit
ye well ye shall win no worship at these walls; and if I would bring out my knights, there
should many a man die. Therefore, my lord King Arthur, remember you of old kindness, and
howsoever I fare, Jesu be your guide in all places."
"Alas," said the king, "that ever this unhappy war was begun, for ever Sir Launcelot
forbeareth me in all places, and in likewise my kin, and that is seen well this day by my nephew
Then King Arthur fell sick for sorrow of Sir Gawaine, that he was sore hurt, and because of
the war betwixt him and Sir Launcelot. So then they on King Arthur's party kept the siege with
little war and small force, and they within kept their walls, and defended them when need was.
Thus Sir Gawaine lay sick about three weeks in his tents, with all manner of leech-craft that
might be had; and as soon as Sir Gawaine might go and ride, he armed him at all points, and
started upon a courser, and gat a spear in his hand, and so he came riding afore the chief gate
of Benwick, and there he cried on high, "Where art thou, Sir Launcelot? Come forth, thou false
traitor knight, and recreant, for I am here, Sir Gawaine, will prove this that I say on thee."
All this language Sir Launcelot heard, and then he said thus, "Sir Gawaine, me repenteth of
your foul saying, that ye will not cease of your language, for wit ye well, Sir Gawaine, I
know your might, and all that ye may do, and well ye wot, Sir Gawaine, ye may not greatly hurt
"Come down, traitor knight," said he, "and make it good the contrary with thy hands; for it
mishapped me the last battle to be hurt of thy hands, therefore wit thou well, that I am come
this day to make amends, for I ween this day to lay thee as low as thou laidest me."
"Defend me," said Sir Launcelot, "that ever I be so far in your danger as ye have been in
mine, for then my days were done. But Sir Gawaine," said Sir Launcelot, ye shall not think that
I tarry long; but sithence that ye so unknightly call me of treason, ye shall have both your
hands full of me."
And then Sir Launcelot armed him at all points, and mounted upon his horse, and gat him a
great spear in his hand, and rode out at the gate. And both the hosts were assembled of them
without and of them within, and stood in array full manly; and both parties were charged for to
hold them still to see and behold the battle of these two noble knights. And then they laid
their spears in their rests, and they ran together as thunder. And Sir Gawaine brake his spear
upon Sir Launcelot in an hundred pieces unto his hand. And Sir Launcelot smote him with a
greater might, that Sir Gawaine's horse's feet raised, and so the horse and he fell to the
earth. Then Sir Gawaine full quickly avoided his horse, and put his shield before him, and
eagerly drew his sword, and bade Sir Launcelot "alight, traitor knight! for though this mare's
son hath failed me, wit thou well that a king's son and a queen's son shall not fail thee."
Then Sir Launcelot avoided his horse, and dressed his shield before him, and drew his sword.
And so they stood together and gave many sad strokes, that all men on both parties had thereof
passing great wonder. But when Sir Launcelot felt Sir Gawaine's might so marvellously increased,
he then withheld his courage and his wind, and kept himself wondrous covert of his might, and
under his shield he traced and traversed here and there for to break Sir Gawaine ‘s strokes and
his courage. And Sir Gawaine enforced him with all his might and power to destroy Sir Launcelot,
for ever as Sir Gawaine's might increased, right so increased his wind and his evil will. Thus
Sir Gawaine did great pain unto Sir Launcelot three hours continually, that Sir Launcelot had
great pain to defend himself. And after that the three hours were passed, then Sir Launcelot
felt verily that Sir Gawaine was come to his own proper might and strength, and that his great
power was done. Then Sir Launcelot said unto Sir Gawaine, "Now have I well proved you twice,
that ye are a full dangerous knight, and a wonderful man of your might, and many wonderful deeds
have you done in your days: for by your might increasing you have deceived many a full noble and
valiant knight; and now I feel that ye have done your mighty deeds. Now wit you well I must do
And then Sir Launcelot stood near Sir Gawaine, and then Sir Launcelot doubled his strokes,
and Sir Gawaine defended him mightily. But nevertheless Sir Launcelot smote such a stroke upon
Sir Gawaine's helm, and upon the old wound, that Sir Gawaine sank down upon his one side in a
swoon. And anon as he was awake, he waved and foined at Sir Launcelot as he lay, and said,
"Traitor knight, wit thou well I am not yet slain: come thou near me, perform this battle
unto the uttermost."
"I will no more do than I have done," said Sir Launcelot; "for when I see you on foot I
will do battle upon you all the while I see you stand on your feet; but for to smite a wounded
man that may not stand, God defend me from such a shame."
And then he turned him and went his way towards the city, and Sir Gawaine evermore calling
him traitor knight, and said, "Wit thou well, Sir Launcelot, when I am whole, I shall do battle
with thee again; for I shall never leave thee till that one of us be slain."
Thus as this siege endured, and as Sir Gawaine lay sick near a month, and when he was well
recovered and ready within three days to do battle again with Sir Launcelot, right so came
tidings unto King Arthur from England, that made King Arthur and all his host to remove.
As Sir Mordred was ruler of all England, he caused letters to be made as though they came
from beyond the sea, and the letters specified that King Arthur was slain in battle with Sir
Launcelot; wherefore Sir Mordred made a parlia- ment, and called the lords together, and there
he made them to choose him king. And so he was crowned at Canterbury, and held a feast there
fifteen days. And afterwards he drew him to Winchester, and there he took Queen Guenever, and
said plainly that he would wed her which was his uncle's wife; and so he made ready for the
feast, and a day prefixed that they should be wedded. Wherefore Queen Guenever was passing
heavy; but she durst not discover her heart, but spake fair and agreed to Sir Mordred's will.
Then she desired of Sir Mordred for to go to London for to buy all manner thing that belonged
unto the wedding; and because of her fair speech, Sir Mordred trusted her well enough, and gave
her leave to go. And when she came to London, she took the Tower of London, and suddenly in all
haste possible she stuffed it with all manner of victual and well filled it with men, and so
kept it. Then when Sir Mordred wist how he was beguiled, he was passing wroth out of measure.
And, a short tale for to make, he went and laid a mighty siege about the Tower of London, and
made many great assaults thereat, and threw many great engines unto them, and shot great guns.
But all might not prevail Sir Mordred, for Queen Guenever would never for fair speech nor for
foul trust to come in his hands again. And then came the bishop of Canterbury, the which was a
noble clerk and an holy man, and thus he said to Sir Mordred: "Sir, what will ye do, will ye
first displease God, and sithen shame yourself and all knighthood? Is not King Arthur your
uncle, no further but your mother's brother? Leave this opinion, or else I shall curse you with
book, and bell, and candle."
"Do thou thy worst," said Sir Mordred, "wit thou well I shall defy thee."
"Sir," said the bishop, "and wit you well I shall not fear me to do that me ought to do.
Also where ye noise where my lord Arthur is slain, and that is not so, and therefore ye will
make a foul work in this land."
"Peace, thou false priest," said Sir Mordred, "for, and thou chafe me any more, I shall make
strike off thy head."
So the bishop departed, and did the curse in the most orgulous wise that might be done. And
then Sir Mordred sought the bishop of Canterbury for to have slain him. Then the bishop fled,
and took part of his goods with him, and went nigh unto Glastonbury, and there he was as priest
hermit in a chapel, and lived in poverty and in holy prayers: for well he understood that
mischievous war was at hand. Then Sir Mordred sought on Queen Guenever by letters and by fair
means and foul means, for to have her to come out of the Tower of London, but all this availed
not, for she answered him shortly, openly and privily, that she had liever slay herself than to
be married with him. Then came word to Sir Mordred that King Arthur had raised the siege from
Sir Launcelot, and that he was coming homeward with a great host, for to be avenged upon Sir
Mordred. Where- fore Sir Mordred made to write letters unto all the barony of this land, and
much people drew unto him; for then was the common voice among them, that with King Arthur was
none other life but war and strife, and with Sir Mordred was great joy and bliss. Thus was King
Arthur depraved and evil said of, and many there were that King Arthur had made up of nought,
and had given them lands, might not say of him then a good word.
Lo, we all Englishmen see what a mischief here was; for he that was the noblest king and
knight of the world, and most loved the fellowship of noble knights and men of worship, and by
him they were all upholden, now might not we Englishmen hold us content with him. Lo, this was
the old custom and usage of this land. And also men say that we of this land have not yet lost
nor forgotten the custom and usage. Alas! alas! this is a great default of us Englishmen, for
there may nothing please us no term. And so fared the people at that time. For they were better
pleased with Sir Mordred than they were with King Arthur, and much people drew unto Sir Mordred,
and said they would abide with him for better and for worse. And so Sir Mordred drew with a
great host towards Dover, for there he heard say that King Arthur would arrive. And the most
part of all England held with Sir Mordred, the people were so new-fangled.
And so, as Sir Mordred was at Dover with his host, there came King Arthur with a great navy
of ships, galleys, and carracks. And there was Sir Mordred ready awaiting upon his landing, to
let [hinder] his own [uncle] to land upon the land that he was king over. Then there was
launching of great boats and small, and full of noble men of arms, and there was much slaughter
of gentle knights, and many a full bold baron was laid full low on both parties. But King Arthur
was so courageous, that there might no manner of knights let him to land, and his knights
fiercely followed him. And so they landed, maugre Sir Mordred and all his power, and put Sir
Mordred aback, that he fled and all his people. So when this battle was done, King Arthur let
bury his people that were dead, and then was the noble knight Sir Gawaine found in a great boat
lying more than half dead. When Sir Arthur wist that Sir Gawaine was laid so low, he went unto
him, and there the king made sorrow out of measure, and took Sir Gawaine in his arms, and thrice
he there swooned. And when he awaked he said, "Alas, Sir Gawaine, my sister's son, here now thou
liest, the man in the world that I loved most, and now is my joy gone: for now, my nephew Sir
Gawaine, I will discover me unto your person; in Sir Launcelot and you I most had my joy, and
mine affiance, and now have I lost my joy of you both, wherefore all mine earthly joy is gone
"Mine uncle King Arthur," said Sir Gawaine, "wit you well, my death day is come, and all is
through mine own hastiness and wilfulness, for I am smitten upon the old wound the which Sir
Launcelot gave me, on the which I feel well I must die, and had Sir Launcelot been with you as
he was, this unhappy war had never begun, and of all this am I causer, for Sir Launcelot and his
blood through their prowess held all your cankered enemies in subjection and danger: and now,"
said Sir Gawaine, "ye shall miss Sir Launcelot. But, alas, I would not accord with him, and
therefore," said Sir Gawaine, "I pray you, fair uncle, that I may have paper, pen, and ink, that
I may write unto Sir Launcelot a letter with mine own hands."
And when paper and ink was brought, Sir Gawaine was set up weakly by King Arthur, for he had
been shriven a little before; and he wrote thus unto Sir Launcelot: "Flower of all noble knights
that ever I heard of or saw in my days; I, Sir Gawaine, King Lot's son of Orkney, sister's son
unto the noble King Arthur, send unto thee greeting, and let thee have knowledge, that the tenth
day of May I was smitten upon the old wound which thou gayest me before the city of Benwick, and
through the same wound that thou gayest me I am come unto my death day, and I will that all the
world wit that I Sir Gawaine, knight of the Round Table, sought my death, and not through thy
deserving, but it was mine own seeking; wherefore I beseech thee, Sir Launcelot, for to return
again unto this realm and see my tomb, and pray some prayer more or less for my soul. Also, Sir
Launcelot, for all the love that ever was between us, make no tarrying, but come over the sea in
all the haste that thou mayest with thy noble knights, and rescue that noble king that made thee
knight, that is my lord and uncle King Arthur, for he is full straitly bestood [sore beset] with
a false traitor, which is my half brother Sir Mordred, and he hath let crown himself king,
and he would have wedded my lady Queen Guenever, and so had he done, if she had not put herself
in the Tower of London. And so the tenth day of May last past, my lord and uncle King Arthur
and we all landed upon them at Dover, and there we put that false traitor Sir Mordred to flight.
And there it misfortuned me for to be stricken upon thy stroke. And at the date of this letter
was written but two hours and half before my death, written with mine own hand, and so
subscribed with part of my heart's blood. And I require thee, most famous knight of all the
world, that thou wilt see my tomb."
And then Sir Gawaine wept, and King Arthur wept. And the king made Sir Gawaine to receive
his Saviour. And then Sir Gawaine prayed the king to send for Sir Launcelot, and to cherish him
above all other knights. And so at the hour of noon, Sir Gawaine yielded up the spirit. And then
the king let inter him in a chapel within Dover Castle; and there yet all men may see the skull
of him, and the same wound is seen that Sir Launcelot gave him in battle. Then was it told King
Arthur that Sir Mordred had pitched a new field upon Barendoune [Barhaim Down]. And upon the
morn the king rode thither to him, and there was a great battle betwixt them, and much people
were slain on both parties. But at the last King Arthur's party stood best, and Sir Mordred and
his party fled into Canterbury.
And then the king let search all the towns for his knights that were slain, and interred
them; and salved them with soft salves that so sore were wounded. Then much people drew unto
King Arthur. And then they said that Sir Mordred warred upon King Arthur wrongfully. And then
King Arthur drew him with his host down by the sea side, westward unto Salisbury, and there was
a day assigned between King Arthur and Sir Mordred, that they should meet upon a down beside
Salisbury, and not far from the sea side, and this day was assigned on a Monday after Trinity
Sunday, whereof King Arthur was passing glad, that he might be avenged upon Sir Mordred. Then
Sir Mordred raised much people about London, for they of Kent, Southsex [Sussex], and Southery
[Surrey], Estsex [Essex],and Southfolk [Suffolk], and of Northfolk [Norfolk], held the most
party with Sir Mordred, and many a full noble knight drew unto Sir Mordred and to the king; but
they that loved Sir Launcelot drew unto Sir Mordred.
So upon Trinity Sunday at night King Arthur dreamed a wonderful dream, and that was this,
that him seemed he sat in a chair, and the chair was fast unto a wheel, and thereupon sat King
Arthur in the richest cloth of gold that might be made. And the king thought there was under
him, far from him, a hideous and a deep black water, and therein was all manner of serpents and
worms, and wild beasts foul and terrible; and suddenly the king thought that the wheel turned
upside down, and that he fell among the serpents and wild beasts, and every beast took him by a
limb; and then the king cried, as he lay in his bed and slept, "Help !"
And then knights, squires, and yeomen awaked the king; and then he was so amazed that he
wist not where he was; and then he fell in a slumbering again, not sleeping nor thoroughly
waking. So King Arthur thought that there came Sir Gawaine unto him verily, with a number of
fair ladies with him; and so when King Arthur saw him, he said, "Welcome, my sister's son, I
wend thou hadst been dead, and now I see thee alive, much am I beholden unto almighty Jesu; oh,
fair nephew and my sister's son, what be these ladies that be come hither with you?"
"Sir," said Sir Gawaine, "all these be the ladies for whom I have fought when I was man
living: and all these are those that I did battle for in righteous quarrel. And God hath given
them that grace at their great prayer, because I did battle for them, that they should bring
me hither unto you for to warn you of your death; for and ye fight as to-morrow with Sir
Mordred, as ye both have assigned, doubt ye not ye must be slain, and the most part of your
people on both parties. For within a month shall come Sir Launcelot, with all his noble knights,
and rescue you worshipfully, and slay Sir Mordred and all that ever will hold with them." Then
Sir Gawaine and all the ladies vanished.
So then were they condescended that King Arthur and Sir Mordred should meet between both
their hosts, and every each of them should bring fourteen persons. And they came with this word
unto King Arthur, and then said he, "I am glad that this is done." And so he went into the
fields; and when King Arthur should depart, he warned all his host that, and they saw any sword
drawn, "look that ye come on fiercely, and slay that traitor Sir Mordred, for I in no wise trust
In like wise Sir Mordred did warn his host that "if ye see any manner of sword drawn, look
that ye come on fiercely, and so slay all that ever standeth before you, for in no wise I will
not trust for this treatise, for I know well that my [uncle] will be avenged upon me.
And so they met as their appointment was, and were agreed and accorded thoroughly, and wine
was fet [fetched] and they drank. Right so came an adder out of a little heath bush, and it
stung a knight on the foot; and when the knight felt him stung, he looked down and saw the
adder, and then he drew his sword to slay the adder, and thought of none other harm. And when
the hosts on both parties saw that sword drawn, they blew trumpets and horns, and shouted
grimly. And so both hosts dressed them to- gether, and King Arthur took his horse, and said,
"Alas, this unhappy day!" and so rode he to his party. And so Sir Mordred did in like wise;
and never was there seen a more dolefuller battle in no Christian land, for there was but
rashing and riding, foining and striking, and many a grim word was there spoken either to other,
and many a deadly stroke. And ever they fought still till it was nigh night, and by that time
was there an hundred thousand laid dead upon the down. Then was King Arthur wroth out of
measure, when he saw his people so slain from him. Then the king looked about him, and then was
he ware that of all his host, and of all his good knights, were left no more alive but two
knights, that was Sir Lucan the Butler and Sir Bedivere his brother, and they were right sore
"Jesu mercy!" said King Arthur, "where are all my noble knights become? Alas! that ever I
should see this doleful day; for now," said King Arthur, "I am come unto mine end; but would to
God that I wist where that traitor Sir Mordred is, which hath caused all this mischief." Then
was King Arthur ware where Sir JV[ordred leaned upon his sword among a great heap of dead men.
"Now give me my spear," said King Arthur to Sir Lucan, "for yonder I have espied the traitor
which hath wrought all this woe."
"Sir, let him be," said Sir Lucan, "for he is unhappy; and if ye pass this unhappy day ye
shall be right well revenged upon him. My good lord, remember well your dream that ye had
this night, and what the spirit of Sir Gawaine told you this night; yet God of his great
goodness hath preserved you hitherto, therefore, for God's sake, my lord, leave off by this,
for blessed be God ye have won the field; for here we be three on live, and with Sir Mordred
is none alive. And if ye leave off now, this wicked day of destiny is done."
"Betide me death, betide me life," said the king, "now I see him yonder alone he shall never
escape my hands, for at a better vantage shall I never have him."
"God speed you well," said Sir Bedivere.
Then the king gat his spear in both his hands, and ran towards Sir Mordred, crying,
"Traitor, now is thy death day come.
And when Sir Mordred heard King Arthur, he ran unto him with his sword drawn in his hand.
And then King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shield with a foin of his spear throughout
the body more than a fathom. And when Sir Mordred felt that he had his death's wound, he
thrust himself, with the might that he had, up to the bur of King Arthur's spear. And right so
he smote [the king] with his sword holden in both his hands, on the side of the head, that the
sword pierced the helmet and the brain-pan. And therewithal Sir Mordred fell stark dead to the
earth. And the noble Arthur fell in a swoon to the earth, and there he swooned ofttimes. And Sir
Lucan the Butler and Sir Bedivere ofttimes heaved him up, and so weakly they led him betwixt
them both to a little chapel not far from the sea side. And when the king was there, he thought
him well eased. Then heard they people cry in the field.
"Now go thou, Sir Lucan," said the king, "and do me to wit what betokens that noise in the
field." So Sir Lucan departed, and he was grievously wounded in many places. And so as he went,
he saw and hearkened by the moonlight, how the pillers [pillagers] and robbers were come into
the field to pill and to rob many a full noble knight of broaches and beads, of many a good
ring, and of many a rich jewel; and who that were not dead all out [entirely], there they slew
them for their harness and their riches. When Sir Lucan understood this work, he came to the
king as soon as he might, and told him all what he had heard and seen.
"Therefore by mine advice," said Sir Lucan, "it is best that we bring you to some town."
"I would it were so," said the king.
"But I may not stand. Ah, Sir Launcelot," said King Arthur, "this day have I sore missed
thee. Alas, that ever I was against thee, for now have I my death, whereof Sir Gawaine me warned
in my dream."
Then the King...ran towards Sir Mordred, crying,"Traitor, now is thy death day come"
Then Sir Lucan took up the king the one part, and Sir Bedivere the other part, and in the
lifting, the king swooned, and Sir Lucan fell in a swoon with the lift, and therewith the noble
knight's heart brast. And when King Arthur came to himself again, he beheld Sir Lucan how he lay
foaming at the mouth.
"Alas," said the king, "this is unto me a full heavy sight to see this noble duke so die for
my sake, for he would have holpen me, that had more need of help than I. Alas, he would not
complain him, his heart was so set to help me. Now Jesu have mercy upon his soul."
Then Sir Bedivere wept for the death of his brother.
"Leave this mourning and weeping," said the king, "for all this will not avail me: for, wit
thou well, and I might live myself the death of Sir Lucan would grieve me evermore; but my time
hieth fast," said the king. "Therefore," said King Arthur, "take thou Excalibur, my good sword,
and go with it to yonder water side, and when thou comest there, I charge thee throw my sword in
that water, and come again, and tell me what thou shalt see there."
"My lord," said Sir Bedivere, "your command shall be done, and lightly bring you word again.
And so Sir Bedivere departed; and by the way he beheld that noble sword where the pommel and
the haft were all of precious stones, and then he said to himself, "If I throw this rich sword
into the water, thereof shall never come good, but harm and loss."
And then Sir Bedivere hid Excalibur under a tree, and as soon as he might he came again unto
King Arthur, and said he had been at the water, and had thrown the sword into the water.
"What sawest thou there?" said the king.
"Sir," said he, "I saw nothing but waves and wind."
"That is untruly said of thee," said King Arthur, " therefore go thou lightly and do my
command, as thou art to me lief [beloved] and dear; spare not, but throw it in." Then Sir
Bedivere returned again, and took the sword in his hand; and then him thought it sin and shame
to throw away that noble sword. And so he hid the sword, and returned again and told to the
king that he had been at the water and done his command.
"What saw ye there ?" said the king.
"Sir," said he, "I saw nothing but the water wap and waves wane.(1)
1 "Water wap and waves wane," water lap and waves ebb.
"Ah, traitor untrue !" said King Arthur, "now hast thou betrayed me two times. Who would
have wend that thou that hast been unto me so self [loved like myself] and dear, and thou art
named a noble knight, and wouldest betray me for the rich sword? But now go again lightly, for
thy long tarrying putteth me in great jeopardy of my life, for I have taken cold; and but if
thou do as I command thee, and if ever I may see thee, I shall slay thee with my own hands, for
thou wouldst for my rich sword see me dead."
Then Sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up, and went to the
water's side; and there he bound the girdle about the hilts, and then he threw the sword into
the water as far as he might; and there came an arm and an hand above the water, and met it and
caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished.
And then the hand vanished away with the sword in the water. So Sir Bedivere came again to
the king, and told him what he had seen.
"Alas !" said the king, "help me from hence, for I dread me I have tarried over long."
Then Sir Bedivere took King Arthur upon his back, and so went with him to the water's side.
And when they were
at the water's side, even fast by the bank hoved a little barge, with many fair ladies in it,
and among them all was a queen, and all they had black hoods, and they wept and shrieked when
they saw King Arthur.
"Now put me into the barge," said the king; and so he did softly; and there received him
three queens with great mourning, and so these three queens [whereof one was King Arthur's
sister Morgan le Fay, the other was the queen of Northgalis, and the third was the queen of the
waste lands] set them down, and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head. And then that
queen said, "Ah! dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me? Alas! this wound on your
head hath taken overmuch cold."
And so then they rowed from the land, and Sir Bedivere beheld all those ladies go from him;
then Sir Bedivere cried, "Ah! my lord Arthur, what shall become of me now ye go from me, and
leave me here alone among mine enemies ?"
"Comfort thyself," said King Arthur, "and do as well as thou mayest, for in me is no trust
for to trust in; for I will into the vale of Avalon for to heal me of my grievous wound; and if
thou never hear more of me, pray for my soul."
But evermore the queens and the ladies wept and shrieked that it was pity for to hear them.
And as soon as Sir Bedivere had lost the sight of the barge, he wept and wailed, and so took the
forest; and so he went all the night, and in the morning he was ware between two hills of a
chapel and an hermitage.
Then was Sir Bedivere glad, and thither he went; and when he came into the chapel, he saw
where lay an hermit grovelling upon all four there fast by a tomb newly graven. When the hermit
saw Sir Bedivere, he knew him well, for he was, but a little before, [the] bishop of Canterbury
that Sir Mordred banished away.
"Sir," said Sir Bedivere, "what man is there that ye pray so fast for?"
"Fair son," said the hermit, "I wot not verily, but by deeming, but this night, at midnight,
here came a great number of ladies, and brought hither a dead corpse, and prayed me to bury him;
and here they offered an hundred tapers and gave me an hundred besants."
"Alas," said Sir Bedivere, "that was my lord King Arthur, that here lieth buried in this
Then Sir Bedivere swooned, and when he awoke he prayed the hermit he might abide with him
still there, to live with fasting and prayers. "For from hence will I never go," said Sir
Bedivere, "by my will, but all the days of my life here to pray for my lord Arthur."
"Ye are welcome to me," said the hermit, "for I know you better than ye ween that I do. Ye
are the bold Bedivere, and the full noble duke Sir Lucan the Butler was your brother."
Then Sir Bedivere told the hermit all as ye have heard before. So there bode Sir Bedivere
with the hermit, and there Sir Bedivere put upon him poor clothes, and served the hermit full
lowly in fasting and in prayers. And when the Queen Guenever understood that King Arthur was
slain, and all the noble knights, Sir Mordred and all the remnant, then the queen stole away,
and five ladies with her, and so she went to Almesbury, and there she let make herself a nun and
wore white clothes and black. And great penance she took as ever did sinful lady in this land;
and never creature could make her merry, but lived in fastings, prayers, and alms deeds, that
all manner of people marvelled how virtuously she was changed. Now leave we Queen Guenever in
Almsbury, that was a nun in white clothes and black; and there she was abbess and ruler, as
reason would. And turn we from her, and we speak of Sir Launcelot du Lake.
And when he heard in his country that Sir Mordred was crowned king in England, and made war
against King Arthur, and would not let him to land in his own land; also it was told Sir
Launcelot how that Sir Mordred had laid siege about the Tower of London, because the queen would
not wed him; then was Sir Launcelot wondrous wroth. Then they made them ready in all the haste
that might be, with ships and galleys, with Sir Launcelot and his host for to pass into England.
And so he passed over the sea, and arrived at Dover, and there he landed with seven kings, and
their number was hideous to behold. Then Sir Launcelot inquired of the men of Dover where King
Arthur was become.
Then the people told him how that he was slain, with Sir Mordred, and an hundred thousand
died upon a day, and how Sir Mordred gave King Arthur there the first battle at his landing, and
there was the good knight Sir Gawaine slain; and on the morrow Sir Mordred fought with King
Arthur upon Barendoune, and there King Arthur put Sir Mordred to the worst.
"Alas !" said Sir Launcelot, "this is the heaviest tidings that ever came to me. Now fair
sirs," said Sir Launcelot, "I beseech you show me the tomb of Sir Gawaine."
And then certain people of the town brought him to the castle of Dover, and showed him the
tomb of Sir Gawaine. Then Sir Launcelot kneeled down, and wept, and prayed full heartily for
his soul. And that night he made a dole, and all they that would come had as much flesh and
fish, wine and ale, as they might eat and drink, and every man and woman had twelve pence, come
Then on the third day Sir Launcelot called to the kings, dukes, earls, and barons, and said
thus: "My fair lords, I thank you all of your coming into this country with me. But we come too
late; and that shall repent me while I live. But sithen it is so, I will myself ride and seek my
lady Queen Guenever, for as I hear say she hath great pain and much disease, and I heard say
that she is fled into the west country, therefore ye all abide me here, and but if I come
within fifteen days, then take your ships and your fellowship, and depart into your country."
Then came Sir Bors de Ganis, and said, "My lord Sir Launcelot, what think ye for to do, now
to ride in this realm? wit thou well, ye shall find few friends."
"Be as be may," said Sir Launcelot, "keep you still here, for I will forth on my journey,
and no man nor child shall go with me."
So it was no boot to strive, but he departed and rode westerly, and there he sought a seven
or eight days, and at the last he came unto a nunnery. And then was Queen Guenever ware of Sir
Launcelot as she walked in the cloister; and when she saw him there, she swooned three times,
that all the ladies and gentlewomen had work enough for to hold the queen up. So when she might
speak, she called ladies and gentlewomen unto her, and said, "Ye marvel, fair ladies, why I make
this cheer. Truly," said she, "it is for the sight of yonder knight which yonder standeth;
wherefore I pray you all to call him unto me." And when Sir Launcelot was brought unto her, then
she said: "Sir Launcelot, I require thee and beseech thee heartily, for all the love that ever
was between us two, that thou never look me more in the visage. And furthermore I command thee
on God's behalf right straitly, that thou forsake my com- pany, and that unto thy kingdom
shortly thou return again, and keep well thy realm from war and wreck. For as well as I have
loved thee, Sir Launcelot, now mine heart will not once serve me to see thee. Therefore, Sir
Launcelot, go thou unto thy realm, and there take thee a wife, and live with her in joy and
bliss. And I beseech you heartily, pray for me unto our Lord God, that I may amend my
"Now, sweet madam," said Sir Launcelot, "would ye that I should now return again into my
country, and there to wed a lady? Nay, madam, wit you well that shall I never do: but the same
destiny that ye have taken you to, I will take me unto, for to please Jesu, and ever for you I
cast me specially to pray. And if I had found you now so disposed, I had cast me to have had you
into mine own realm."
[Then] there was lamentation as they had been stung by spears, and the ladies bare the queen
to her chamber.
And Sir Launcelot took his horse and rode all that day and all that night in a forest,
weeping. And at last he was ware of a hermitage and a chapel between two cliffs, and then he
heard a little bell ring to mass.
[And it was here that the bishop and Sir Bedivere had served God together; and they knew Sir
Launcelot, and told him all, and his heart was nearly brast for sorrow. And Sir Launcelot threw
abroad his armor, and was shriven, and took the habit upon him, and abode at that chapel.
And there came Sir Bors, who had gone forth for to seek Sir Launcelot. And Sir Bors took the
habit upon him. And within half a year there was also come] Sir Galihud, Sir Galihodin, Sir
Bleoberis, Sir Villiers, Sir Clarrus, and Sir Gahalantine. So these seven knights abode there
still. And when they saw that Sir Launcelot had taken him unto such perfection they had not list
[desire] to depart, but took such an habit as he had, and their horses went where they would.
Thus they endured in great penance six years, and then Sir Launcelot took the habit of
priesthood, and twelve months he sung the mass. [And he used] such abstinence that he waxed full
lean. And thus upon a night there came a vision to Sir Launcelot, and charged him, in remission
of his sins, to haste him unto Almesbury, "And by then thou come there, thou shalt find Queen
Guenever dead: and therefore take thy fellows with thee, and purvey them of an horsebier, and
fetch thou the corpse of her, and bury her by her husband the noble King Arthur." So this vision
came to Launcelot thrice in one night.
Then Sir Launcelot rose up or day, and told the hermit.
"It were well done," said the hermit, "that ye made you ready, and that you disobey not the
Then Sir Launcelot took his seven fellows with him, and on foot they went from Glastonbury
to Almesbury, the which is little more than thirty miles. And thither they came within two days,
for they were weak and feeble to go. And when Sir Launcelot was come to Almesbury, within the
nunnery, Queen Guenever died but half an hour before.
Then Sir Launcelot saw her visage, but he wept not greatly, but sighed; and so he did all
the observance of the mass himself, both the dirige [dirge] at night and the mass on the morrow.
[And so with many holy rites, Queen Guenever was wrapped thirty-fold in cloth of Rheims, and
put in a web of lead, and after in a coffin of marble. And when she was put in the earth Sir
Then Sir Launcelot never after eat but little meat, nor drank, till he was dead; for then he
sickened more and more, and dried and dwined [dwindled] away; for the bishop nor none of his
fellows might not make him to eat, and little he drank; for evermore day and night he prayed,
but sometime he slumbered a broken sleep, and ever he was lying grovelling on the tomb of King
Arthur and Queen Guenever. And there was no comfort that the bishop, nor Sir Bors, nor none of
his fellows could make him, it availed nothing.
Oh, ye mighty and pompous lords, shining in the glory transitory of this unstable life, as
in reigning over great realms and mighty great countries, fortified with strong castles and
towers, edified with many a rich city; ye also, ye fierce and mighty knights, so valiant in
adventurous deeds of arms; behold, behold, see how this mighty conqueror King Arthur, whom in
his human life all the world doubted [praised], see also the noble Queen Guenever, which
sometime sat in her chair adorned with gold, pearls, and precious stones, now lie full low in
obscure fosse or pit, covered with clods of earth and clay; behold also this mighty champion Sir
Launcelot, peerless of all knighthood, see now how he lieth grovelling upon the cold mould, now
being so feeble and faint that sometime was so terrible. How and in what manner ought ye to be
so desirous of worldly honor so dangerous! Therefore me thinketh this present book is right
necessary often to be read, for in it shall ye find the most gracious, knightly, and virtuous
war of the most noble knights of the world, whereby they gat praising continually. Also me
seemeth, by the oft reading thereof, ye shall greatly desire to accustom yourself in following
of those gracious knightly deeds, that is to say, to dread God, and to love righteousness,
faithfully and courageously to serve your sovereign prince; and the more that God hath given you
the triumphal honor, the meeker ye ought to be, ever fearing the unstableness of this deceitful
world. And so I pass over and turn again unto my matter.
Then Sir Launcelot saw her visage,
but he wept not greatly, but sighed
So within six weeks after Sir Launcelot fell sick, and lay in his bed; and then he sent for
the bishop that there was hermit, and all his true fellows. Then Sir Launcelot said with dreary
steeven [voice], "Sir bishop, I pray you give to me all my rights that longeth to a Christian
"It shall not need you," said the hermit and all his fellows, "it is but heaviness of your
blood: ye shall be well amended by the grace of God to-morn."
"My fair lords," said Sir Launcelot, "wit you well, my careful body will into the earth. I
have warning more than now I will say, therefore give me my rights."
So when he had all that a Christian man ought to have, he prayed the bishop that his fellows
might bear his body unto Joyous Gard.
"Howbeit," said Sir Launcelot, "me repenteth sore, but I made mine avow sometime that in
Joyous Gard I would be buried, and because of breaking of mine avow, I pray you all lead me
Then there was weeping and wringing of hands among all his fellows. So at the season of
night they went all to their beds, for they lay all in one chamber. So after midnight against
day, the bishop that was hermit, as he lay in his bed asleep, he fell on a great laughter; and
therewith the fellowship awoke, and came unto the bishop, and asked him what he ailed.
"Ah, Jesu, mercy," said the bishop, "why did you awake me? I was never in all my life so
merry and well at ease."
"Why, wherefore ?" said Sir Bors.
"Truly," said the bishop, "here was Sir Launcelot with me, with more angels than ever I saw
men upon one day; and I saw the angels heave up Sir Launcelot towards heaven; and the gates of
heaven opened against him."
"It is but dretching [fantasy] of swevens [dreams]," said Sir Bors; "for I doubt not Sir
Launcelot aileth nothing but good."
"It may well be," said the bishop. "Go to his bed, and then shall ye prove the sooth."
So when Sir Bors and his fellows came to his bed, they found him stark dead, and he lay as
he had smiled, and the sweetest savor about him that ever they smelled. Then was there weeping
and wringing of hands, and the greatest dole they made that ever made men. And on the morrow the
bishop sung his mass of requiem; and after the bishop and all those nine knights put Sir
Launcelot in the same horse-bier that Queen Guenever was laid in before that she was buried.
And so the bishop and they all together went with the corpse of Sir Launcelot daily till
they came unto Joyous Gard, and ever they had an hundred torches burning about him.
And so within fifteen days they came to Joyous Gard; and there they laid his corpse in the
body of the choir, and sung and read many psalters and prayers over him and about him; and ever
his visage was laid open and naked, that all folk might behold him, for such was the custom in
those days that all men of worship should so lie with open visage till that they were buried.
And right thus as they were at their service, there came Sir Ector de Mans, that had sought
seven year all England, Scotland, and Wales, seeking his brother Sir Launcelot.
And when Sir Ector de Mans heard such noise and light in the choir of Joyous Gard, he
alighted, and put his horse away from him, and came into the choir; and there he saw men sing
and weep. And all they knew Sir Ector, but he knew not them. Then went Sir Bors unto Sir Ector,
and told him how there lay his brother Sir Launcelot dead. And then Sir Ector threw his shield,
sword, and helm from him; and when he beheld Sir Launcelot's visage he fell down in a swoon. And
when he awaked it were hard any tongue to tell the doleful complaints that he made for his
"Ah, Sir Launcelot," he said, "thou were head of all Christian knights; and now I dare say,"
said Sir Ector, "that Sir Launcelot, there thou liest, thou were never matched of none earthly
knight's hands; and thou were the courtliest knight that ever bare shield; and thou were the
truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrode horse; and thou were the truest lover, of a sinful
man, that ever loved woman; and thou were the kindest man that ever struck with sword; and thou
were the goodliest person that ever came among press [crowd] of knights; and thou were the
meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest
knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest."
Then there was weeping and dolor out of measure.
Thus they kept Sir Launcelot's corpse above the ground fifteen days, and then they buried it
with great devotion. And then at leisure they went all with the bishop of Canterbury to his
hermitage, and there they were together more than a month. Then Sir Constantine, that was Sir
Cador's son, of Cornwall, was chosen king of England; and he was a full noble knight, and
worshipfully he ruled this realm. And then this King Constantine sent for the bishop of
Canterbury, for he heard say where he was; and so he was restored unto his bishopric, and left
that hermitage; and Sir Bedivere was there ever still hermit to his life's end. Then Sir Bors
de Ganis, Sir Ector de Mans, Sir Gahalantine, Sir Galihud, Sir Galihodin, Sir Blamor, Sir
Bleoberis, Sir Villiers le Valiant, Sir Clarrus of Claremount, all these knights drew them to
their countries, howbeit King Constantine would have had them with him, but they would not abide
in this realm; and there they lived in their countries as holy men.
Here is the end of the whole book of King Arthur and of his noble knights of the Round
Table, that when they were whole together there was ever an hundred and forty. Also, here is the
end of the death of King Arthur. I pray you all, gentlemen and gentlewomen, that read this book
of King Arthur and his knights from the beginning to the ending, pray for me while I am alive,
that God send me good deliverance.
And when I am dead, I pray you all pray for my soul. For this book was finished the ninth
year of the reign of King Edward the Fourth, by Sir Thomas Maleor [Malory] knight, as Jesu help
me for his great might, as he is the servant of Jesu both day and night.
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The illustrations are by N.C. Wyeth (1882 - 1945) first published Scribner's 1924)